Jan 212013

My column in today’s DNA

This is an old story that exists in many cultures in slightly varying forms. And, despite its folksy nature, it still holds lessons for today – be it in interpersonal conduct or in international relations.

Once upon a time, long, long ago, there was a little coastal village. Three sides faced the sea, and the only way out to the big town was through a forest.  In the woods lived a great many animals, and most were hunted by the village – sometimes for food, other times for sport, yet others out of fear. Most of the residents of the forest stayed far away from the village. However, the King of Snakes had no option. His wife had just laid eggs, and he needed to stay and guard his family. The villagers found him, and fearing his poison began attacking him. The King of Snakes, did not become King by being a walk over, he was a fierce fighter and strategist. He began taking the war back to the village. A few excruciating deaths by snake bite later, the villagers suddenly found their exit out of the village blocked. The few who tried to go out were prevented by the Nagaraj. Amidst this chaos, arrived a Seer, with his disciples – by boat. The villagers received the Guru with due respect, and made his stay in the village comfortable. The Sage, pleased with the villagers, asks them if he can do anything for them. The villagers complain about the Snake. The Guru tells them, he will take care of it. When he approaches the home of the Nagaraj, the King of Snakes senses the Great Teacher and accepts him as a Guru for himself and his family. The Seer asks the Snake to leave the villagers be and not bite them. The Snake agrees. The teacher leaves telling the villagers that they had nothing to fear anymore. The villagers revert to their original terrorizing behaviour –attacking the Nagaraj, destroying some Eggs, harming the wife. But, the Nagaraj and his family stick to their vow of not harming the villagers. A few months later, the Sage is passing by again.. He comes across the bruised and battered Nagaraj family. He asks them what the matter was. Mrs.Nagaraj pours her heart out. The King of Snakes looks stoically on, and tells the Guru – I stood by my word, as promised to you ‘we did not bite them’. The Guru smiled sagely and said “but, I didn’t tell you not to hiss’.

It would be advisable for the Government and Policy Makers in India, who seek peace with Pakistan, at all costs, to read the story and internalise its teachings. A hint – The story is neither about villainous villagers nor about talking snakes – nor is it all knowing seers who provide life altering solutions. Instead, it is about projecting a vibe. A vibe which says, attack and it will cost you. Attack and you will pay the price.  The story is not about attacking, not in the least. It is also not about desiring peace so much that you get bruised and battered in the bargain. The learning from the story is simple – signal the fact that you are ready to attack to defend your turf, and willing to do grievous harm to keep yourself and those you have sworn to protect safe.

Indian Army – Image courtesy, DNA

Peace with Pakistan is a desirable end. But like any relationship, this one too cannot be built on lies. More importantly, peace cannot be built on a foundation of resentment. It has to be built on mutual respect and understanding. Nostalgia about shared history that one province in India shared with one province in Pakistan is not good enough for the rest of India to pay the price. Breaking of peace, going back on one’s word, killing soldiers, mutilating their bodies all have their origins at a single point – the last three Indian Governments have wanted Peace at all Costs. Both Mr.Vajpayee and Dr.Singh – both of whom have sought peace, have had to signal the end of talks and a willingness to walk away from the dream of  “Peace in our Times” to get Pakistan to back down. Unfortunately, to achieve Peace you have to show that you are ready for war.

There is a via media between the calls for war and nuclear war put forth by belligerent war mongers who want to raise viewership by raising tempers, and ‘lets hug a neighbour today’ view put forward by peaceniks who live in neither country. That via media is signalling your intent to let the peace process die, if attacked – either by uniformed men or non-state actors using Pakistan as a base. Enough, really, is enough.

Sep 202011

My column in today’s DNA


It has been a decade since al-Qaeda took the war in the Middle East to the doorsteps of the Americans. 9/11 became a watershed moment for the ‘War on Terror’, with the US and its allies recognising what countries like India had been facing for more than a decade before that: small groups of interlinked, highly motivated terrorists brining war to civilian populations, in civilian areas.
The US responded by bombing Afghanistan. A year or so later it went to war with Iraq, ostensibly because it had weapons of mass destruction, but somewhere that war, too was enmeshed with the war on terror.
In the next 10 years, the US and its allies have waged a bloody and brutal war against terror, striking at suspected terrorist cells across the world, incarcerating people without trial at Guantanamo Bay, making incursions into sovereign territories in order to attack and destroy terrorists. To achieve this, intelligence networks have been put in place, information systems are up and running, a large number of military personnel, arms and armament, and equipment have been deployed. Targets are continuously attacked. And, of course, Osama Bin Laden has been killed. But, despite all this, the war on terror is not over. Terrorists still attack.
It is estimated that the US alone has spent over $4 trillion since 2002. Over and above this, there has been a tremendous human cost — approximately 2.5 lakh people have died and over 7 million refugees are living in camps across the world.
Has all this reduced the intensity of terrorist attacks? Maybe it has kept the US and its allies safe, but the rest of the world does not have the luxury of invading sovereign nations suspected of harbouring terrorists. The rest of the world has to fight terror the old fashioned way. Step by step. Keeping in mind the laws of their land; keeping in mind international laws; respecting international conventions on sovereignty, and adhering to international codes on human rights. These countries simply cannot send crack assassination teams to nations that harbour terrorists. In many ways the anti-terror machinery in other countries apart from the US and its allies, fights with one hand tied behind its back. While these countries are able to stop most terror attacks, they have been rather unsuccessful in stopping the funding of terror.
One of the most lucrative sources of funding terror has been the production, processing, distribution and retailing of narcotics the world over. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs & Crime, despite their rejection of modernity, terrorists have adopted sophisticated, modern techniques of using crime to fund the war. This includes drugs & arms trafficking, laundering the monies earned from this, and deep involvement in cross border organised crime.
An earlier 2007 report from the UNODC had pegged the total value of the previous year’s opium harvest in Afghanistan alone, earned by farmers, laboratory owners and Afghan traffickers at about $3.1 billion. Afghanistan is not the only opium producer in the world. Pakistan is another major opium growing country. The same theory applies to India. Large portions of Naxal controlled areas grow opium and others are used to traffic drugs in relative safety. Kashmir is another area where Opium is grown and trafficked.
The war on terror will not succeed until there is political will to cut off the money supply that fund terror. And a large part of not only the money supply but also the ground level organisation that plants terror is the narcotics trade. The last 20 years of the war on drugs have yielded nothing except to put huge profits — in cash — into the hands of those who seek to disrupt nation states. It seems ridiculous that while spending billions on fighting terror, governments across the world do not cut off the source of funds. The war on drugs is not a war that can be won by patrolling every inch of the globe and burning down every opium farm. There simply isn’t the manpower to achieve it, and growing it is far too easy, and the profits far too high not to be tempted. It can only be won by legalising drugs, monitoring it, taxing it and tracking it. Governments and various agencies across the world need to shed their dogma about prohibition of drugs. To fight and win the war on terror, the source of funds needs to be cut off. And that starts with legalising drugs.

Jul 132011

I was at JKD’s place. A visit long pending – she had fallen down a month ago. hurt her knee very badly. Ended up getting operated.

We were generally chatting and catching up on films, life and other things when the call came.Blasts in Mumbai – 3 of them. Turned on TV. some people – ‘journalists’ screaming and yelling. the anchors sounding gleeful (switched 3 channels – same behaviour). eye witnesses played in a loop. by the third time JKD was able to perfectly deliver an eye witnesses’ lines. And then she (JKD) asked an important question – why are they not telling us exactly where the blasts happened instead of this crap. Where in Dadar, Where in Jhaveri Bazaar. Where ??

Drivng home from Andheri West to East – there was a quiet calm on the roads. The 8 pm traffic is usually heavy and noisy. Today it was neither. The rains had kept many people away from work. The blasts either kept them at work or they were stranded en route to the suburbs. People followed signals. didn’t flash their high beams. didn’t honk incessantly – there was Nakabandi – but it was smooth and well organised..

30 day Project Day 8 - roadworks

Roadworks at Juhu Gully – the red flashed on the panels was almost symbolic

While at a signal before Juhu Gully meets SV road – i was waiting by the side of the new East to West flyover project. A thought flashed in my mind – what if the bombs were here ? And then another flashed equally rapidly – what could you do if there was?


A thought here – the Mumbai police has kept most of safe this last three years. I wonder how many terror threats they foiled. They failed on this one. People died.

If we live in a society that is fairly open and mostly free – there is a price to be paid – because there will always be people who want to break your resilience and your spirit through violence. And just because you are a system like China doesn’t mean there isn’t violence. There has to be more vigilance. Better laws – and better monitoring.  And there will always be that tussle between security and liberty.

Can systems be better – yes. Can they be fool proof . No. Because the terrorists have an advantage that the System doesn’t – they can kill innocents without a twinge of conscience. Their cause means more than lives. the thing also to remember is that when we keep comparing our systems and response to 9/11 – we forget one thing about them. People came together, political opponents came together and the Nation united in the face of terror. We behave the way we have always behaved through history – seeing tragedy as an opportunity to score points…

Must admit – however much my anger is at the blasts – the system that was so very wobbly post 26/11 swung into place. The cops were putting out information. The vultures journalists from TV channels were kept out. The politicians seemed more or less mature. There seemed to be centre state co-ordination. The HM flew out a few hours before the channels reported it. NSG was on its way at 8. And, twitterati swung into action – the #here2help & #mumbaibblasts hashtags helped. There were, of course, rumours. But, they were quickly dispelled.

There will of course be questions to asked and answered. But for today – apart from some random spouting there seems to be unity.

There were of course those who were spewing vitriol. But, then they always do.


Mar 122010

March 12th 1993. A time when Mumbai was still Bombay. Lokhandwalla was a set of buildings in progress, where gangs regularly went to war. Where In Orbit & Hypercity Malad were rubbish dumps, when the expressway didn’t exist, when Asiatic and Akbarally’s were great malls and when Phoenix was a shut down mill !

March 12th 1993, a set of blasts that shook Mumbai to the core. Buildings blasted, people vaporized and the sense of innate security that citizens of this metropolis had torn to shreds. In all,

A series of bomb blasts ripped through 13 places in the city, killing 257 people and injuring 713. These were the first blasts in which RDX was used and the explosions were allegedly planned by underworld don Dawood Ibrahim.

This was before the 24/7 news era – and therefore the term 12/3 has not passed into popular lexicon ! No body remembers the anniversary or places flowers at key places where the bombs went off and people died

Locations attacked include (dead in brackets)

* Fisherman’s Colony in Mahim causeway[15]
* Zaveri Bazaar[12]
* Plaza Cinema[12]
* Century Bazaar[12]
* Katha Bazaar[12]
* Hotel Sea Rock[12]
* Sahar Airport[12]
* Air India Building[12]
* Hotel Juhu Centaur[12]
* Plaza Theatre near Shiv Sena HQ[16]
* Lucky Petrol near Shiv Sena HQ[16]
* Worli[17]
* Bombay Stock Exchange Building[10]
* Hotel Centaur, Santa Cruz[16]
* Area opposite of Century Bazaar[13]
* Passport Office[18]

I was a student at that time, away in London. I heard about it on the BBC. I was terrified. My dad worked in Air India Building, my brother studied at Xaviers, my mom taught at Sophia’s – all in town, and both passing the passport office en route to our home. It was a different time – no instant messaging, no net, no twitter – and the land lines were impossible to get through to …..

My mother told me about this BEST bus that was blown up near the passport office. many commuters were 12th standard students, who having finished their HSC exams were returning to their respective homes. Not enough scraps were found for last rites.

SR pointed me out to a spot next to Sena Bhavan – the site of a petrol pump – where a bomb failed to go off. Had it gone off the whole area would have been levelled .

The foot soldiers behind the blast were sentenced a few years ago. Those who planned it still run free.

The BBC’s coverage

Dec 102008

Two very different stories caught my attention today. Both are related to media coverage.

One was in the Indian Express by Rajat Sharma, of India TV, quoting a former Army Chief – who had come into the channel to advice producers & camerapersons on :

what precautions they should have taken while showing “live” action. My most important objective was to understand if news channels, in any way, endangered the lives of our commandos.

To my surprise, the former army chief was emphatic: “News channels did nothing wrong. Your coverage didn’t do any harm whatsoever to the commandos! I’ve handled action as a major, then as a full colonel, and finally as an army commander in anti-terrorist operations, and there’s nothing I could make out from the news channel about the strategy of our commandos.”

Frankly, I expected him to echo what some have been saying—how terrorists got valuable clues on the commando plan by watching our channels. But sample what he said: “Do you think that terrorists holed up in a hotel facing commando fire had time to watch TV?” A young reporter persisted. He reminded the general of the “widespread belief” that the terrorists were being briefed on their Blackberries by their bosses, watching our news channels. Promptly came the angry reply. “Anyone suggesting this must be mad. (Even) I could not get an idea about the action plan. Who has the time to look at TV and Blackberries when you are in the midst of gunfire?”

The second was in the International Herald Tribune, quoting Indian authorities :

And, perhaps most significantly, throughout the three-day siege at two luxury hotels and a Jewish center, the Pakistani-based handlers communicated with the attackers using Internet phones that complicate efforts to trace and intercept calls.

Those handlers, who were apparently watching the attacks unfold live on television, were able to inform the attackers of the movement of security forces from news accounts and provide the gunmen with instructions and encouragement, the authorities said.